Find out why they call it “room island”
Published/Last edited or updated: 13th November, 2018
A hundred shades of green glistened on a sea cave wall. Choppy water smoothed to a calm emerald, the wind disappearing as our boat slipped between a pair of limestone cliffs. After a deep breath, we emerged into a vast lagoon at the centre of Ko Hong, or “Room Island.” Of the many small islands off the coast of Krabi province that can be reached only as day trips, this is the one we’d prioritise.
Due west of Tup Kaek beach and east of Ko Yao Noi in Phra Nang Bay, Ko Hong (aka Ko Lao Phi Lae) is the largest of some 13 tiny islands that collectively form the MuKo Hong group. While they’re overseen by Than Bok Khorani National Park, the park’s visitor centre and other attractions are located some 60 km to the north, on the mainland, and are rarely visited on the same day.
Our speedboat tour departed from Ao Nang beach in the morning, but only after two hours of waiting and picking up more passengers from Railay and other beaches. Once we were off, a windy 30-minute cruise ended at the first stop: Ko Phak Bia.
A blip of an island with no development save an outhouse, Phak Bia’s signature feature is an eight-metre-high limestone rock that has eroded at its base, resembling a shaggy mushroom just offshore. Though not long or wide, a grainy tan sand bar is touched by clear water on two sides at low tide. We were one among roughly 10 boats here at the time.
The next stop was a small, sheltered bay on Ko Lao Lading, or “Paradise Island.” With a fine tan-sand beach buttressed on three sides by vertical cliffs and small caves, it was easy to see why they call it paradise. The calm water was plenty deep for a refreshing swim. We were told that a reef is found just offshore, but visibility was too poor for snorkelling.
Probably due to its shaded beach, Lao Lading has become the lunch spot of choice for many of the tour companies. Ours was a mix of fried chicken, green curry, rice and fresh fruit, all included in the price of the tour and eaten at long picnic tables or on bamboo platforms. The majority of beachfront served as a parking lot for the boats. Old plastic bottles and styrofoam sat scattered in the corners.
Another five-minute cruise and we approached Ko Hong’s soaring limestone cliffs coloured many shades of yellow, orange, green and grey. As if carved out of the centre of the island, the hong (or “room”) must be at least 200 metres wide, a circular pool that looked like molten jade contained by craggy walls. A few travellers kayaked among fluffy mangroves at the base of the cliffs. Others explored small sea caves sculpted by the water over untold time.
After only a few minutes spent soaking up Ko Hong’s namesake natural feature, we looped around to the island’s east-facing beach before disembarking on a floating pier. From here we could see the other side of the largest cliffs that form the lagoon.
Ko Hong’s beach is a narrow but fairly long stretch of powdery white sand shaded by the lime-green and lava-red leaves of umbrella trees. Though choppy during our visit, the water struck a splendid shade of aquamarine. Some of the many day trippers lounged along the surf while others swam or encircled an offshore islet in their kayaks.
We wandered past a small national park display and restaurant before stumbling on a sign: “Nature Trail: 600 metres.” It began by passing the wrecked frames of old wooden longtail boats, washed inland by the 2004 Tsumani and left here, untouched, as an eerie memorial.
Enjoying the solitude after hours spent with throngs of strangers, we stepped slowly on the sandy trail that rambles along the base of the cliffs. A bright yellow bird danced overhead. After hearing something larger rustle in the leaves, we watched silently as a fat old monitor lizard lumbered across the path.
When the tour finished we disembarked at Haad Noppharat Thara pier, which caused some confusion since we had departed right off Ao Nang beach in the morning. Rather than be squeezed onto benches in the back of a large truck for the hotel drop off, we opted to walk back to Ao Nang via East Noppharat Thara beach. While all of the places we visited were stunning, the tour aspect of it was not very enjoyable, and we were happy to have our freedom back.
Some passengers smoked on the boat and tossed their butts into the sea. One man turned in an apparently defective snorkel, sparking a shouting match with the tour guide that ended only after he’d coughed up 500 baht. While in the lagoon, the speedboat snapped branches off a mangrove tree. No effort was made to find good snorkelling spots, and we seemed to arrive at every island precisely when they were busiest. This tour was with Aonang Orchid and, well, we wouldn’t recommend them. In fact, we felt somewhat ashamed to have been a part of it.
While it won’t include lunch or the 300 baht national park fee, arranging a private boat will allow you to leave earlier and reach some of the islands before they’re overrun. This way you can also decide where to go. Rather than follow the big tour boats, you might ask to stop at less-frequented islands, like Ko Lao Riam, Ko Pakka and Ko Daeng, the latter being the best for snorkelling, or so we’ve heard.
A private longtail boat from Ao Nang will cost around 2,800 baht (per boat, not per person), and around 2,500 from Haad Noppharat Thara. Ko Hong is best visited from Khlong Muang, where the going rate is 2,000 baht but can go as low as 1,700. On Ko Hong, kayaks can be rented directly from the national park for 400 baht. Ko Hong has a restaurant but no overnight accommodation.
If you settle for a tour, expect to pay around 750 baht per person if by longtail or over 1,000 by speedboat—a bit more if you opt for a kayaking option. We’d actually recommend the slower longtails, simply because they’re smaller and more atmospheric. That said, expect both options to be packed as tight as can be in high season. Boat trips are not recommended when the sea gets rough in the rainy months.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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